Touring Sedona and Grand Canyon: The Ultimate Restorative Arizona Vacation
Updated: Jul 6
Sedona to Grand Canyon is just a two-hour drive time (or 117 miles), and you traverse some of the most beautiful landscapes in the U.S. Hiking, rock climbing, Jeep tours, swimming holes, spas, and shopping await.
We recently made a two-week trip from Dallas to the Grand Canyon and visited six National Parks in the southwest (Guadalupe Mountains, Carlsbad Caverns, White Sands, Saguaro, Grand Canyon and Petrified Forest). We did Sedona and the Grand Canyon with my sister and her family and it was amazing.
Table of Contents:
Grand Canyon National Park:
Travel from Grand Canyon and Sedona:
Sedona's red rocks are unparalleled beauty. Wait, rewind. I can't really say that because we are also talking about the Grand Canyon today and that's unparalleled. Let's just say that Sedona's beauty is spectacular and you don't want to miss it.
History of the Red Rocks
The Red Rocks were formed over 300 million years ago when the Colorado Plateau was lifted. Over time, these red rocks have been shaped by wind and sand and iron oxide deposits from the ebbs and flows of the water that formed the Oak Creek Canyon. Together, they have woven this beautiful landscape.
For history or geological buffs, more information can be found on Sedona's City Council Site.
Things to Do in Sedona
Exploring the Red Rocks
The Red Rocks are easy to explore on your own or on a tour. When we went this past summer, we booked a Pink Jeep Tour. Admittedly, I didn't want to go. There's a back story related to renting jeeps, Canyonlands National Park and my husband's extreme fear of heights, but I'll save that for another time.
My sister had booked the Pink Jeep tour for her family and I thought the price was expensive and something that would be of little interest to my family. I bought us tickets because I decided it was better than having two children mad at me all day while their cousins went on an excursion.
I was wrong. We all had a blast.
We did the Broken Arrow trail which is the most popular. Alan was our tour guide and he was amazing. We automatically took a liking to him because he was from Rochester, NY and we have a lot of family up there. His jokes were terrible but awesome (think Disneyworld's Jungle Cruise). He was a great driver and as a surprise, probably the best photographer that you could have for this type of experience. I've never seen anyone take a panoramic or jumping shot as fast and successfully as Alan. [Sidebar: Cheers, Alan - we are forever grateful for the memories!]
There were a couple of harrowing ascents and descents, but that is not only part of the fun, but the most fun part. At no time did we feel like we were in danger (unlike the Canyonlands trip that we don't talk about in our house). And the knowledge that the guides have about the rocks and their history is more than you would likely figure out on your own. Bottom line, do the Pink Jeep Tour.
Beyond the Pink Jeep tour, there are also ample hiking opportunities that you can do on your own. We sort of did a hike around Bell Rock. I say "sort of" because we had a large group and some of us made it and some of us lost the trail. In all cases, we all had fun climbing over the rocks. Word of caution: bring lots of water at all times, but extra in the summer. Hot doesn't begin to describe it. Cathedral Rock is also a popular hike. You can find out the best hike for you at Earth Trekkers site and using AllTrails maps.
One of the hikes that I really wish I would have done is the Subway Cave. It looks like quite an adventure and the pictures are amazing. It almost looks like you are walking through a keyhole. My friend, Laura, captured in great detail what it takes to hike the Subway Cave.
This is a very fun state park where you can slide along the natural red rocks. Hundreds of people wade in the water and take turns careening down the slides. We drove by this and were overwhelmed with the crowds so we didn't stop, but I think if you are up for a crowd, there is a lot of fun to be had here. Find out up-to-date information on Arizona's Slide Rock State Park page.
The Chapel of the Holy Cross was designed by sculptor Marguerite Brunswig Staude, a student of Frank Lloyd Wright and built in 1956. As you can imagine, there is a beautiful view at the top.
Sedona in Movies and TV
Because of its beauty, Sedona has been shown in countless westerns and blockbusters over the years. John Wayne, James Stewart and even Elvis all shot films here. Some of the more notable films done here include:
Broken Arrow (Jimmy Stewart)
Walk Away, Joe (Elvis movie)
Angel and the Badman (John Wayne)
And of course, my favorite, parts of National Lampoon's Vacation.
Sedona is revered by many for its metaphysical properties. People come from all over the world to meditate and heal from the energy vortexes (FYI grammar police: no one uses "vortices" here; I was actually corrected!). A vortex is a swirling center of energy. Some even believe that this high energy twists the trunks of some of the juniper trees in the area.
All of Sedona is an energy vortex although there are some areas that have an unusual high level of energy and are considered the 4 vortexes:
Airport Mesa (tip: this is a great spot to catch a sunset and there is ample parking)
We visited a couple of the vortices and....I can't say that I felt particularly enlightened. Still, I believe just enough in this kind of stuff that if I'm in the vicinity, I'll probably check it out. I also think that it would be interesting to take a guided tour from someone that believes in the healing properties and can explain how it works in better detail. If you are interested or have an open mind and curious, check it out.
For now, I consider the visit checked off the list but energy and inner peace still a question mark.
There's a lot of money and luxury to be had in Sedona and spas are plentiful.
Best Mid-Price Spas:
We really enjoyed this small spa. Upon arrival, we were taken to the changing room / bathroom to put on robes and flip flops. We then were able to sit inside or outside and enjoy the lovely weather in loungers while we waited for our appointments. There was also a hot tub available before or after our massages. My sister had a Swedish massage and I had a deep tissue. Both were wonderful.
When we went to leave, the wonderful ladies asked us if we would instead prefer to drink a mimosa on their patio in a chaise lounge. Yep, we sure would. We texted our husbands that we would be a little later than expected.
This spa is also very well-rated and has your standard options as well as some creative ones. They even have a teletherapy option that you can do from the comfort of your own home, no Sedona trip required:)
Best Luxury Spas:
This luxury massage is currently undergoing reservations as of January 2022. Check back though if you are planning a trip as it has rave reviews.
This spa would be my pick if your trip revolves around the spa experience. Fortunately for its guests, but not for the rest of us, they only take guests to the resort for appointments to keep an intimate experience.
So after our wonderful spa treatments, but while I was enjoying my mimosa, I made a terrible realization. The VRBO that I had booked and was so, so, so excited to stay at, was in fact in a town an hour and a half away. Here's an important lesson folks: check the distance if you use the map feature where it shows you places in your "area".
Where to Stay in Sedona
As mentioned above, we were in a bind. We had to cancel our booked VRBO because it was too far away from Sedona and we were traveling with my sister and her family. Thank God for points. We have a lot of points from the Marriott Bonvoy card and we ended up booking a last minute room at the Westin Sedona.
It was clean and lovely and had a decent pool and a hopping hot tub. It was a 15-20 minute drive into town and not too exciting so I think it's great to stay at if you have points or just want a standard hotel room.
Otherwise, there are so many boutique hotels that I think you are better off doing that. There are also some nice homes to rent, but availability can be very hard and there's a lot of winding roads that add to the travel time.
Below are some places that I would recommend for a stay:
Amara (~$300 per night)
This is a boutique hotel located in downtown. The pool has a beautiful backdrop of the red rocks and there is also a lovely hot tub. The rooms are nicely decorated and there are great reviews of the restaurant.
A Sunset Chateau (~$330 per night)
This has my pick for the best mid-range price hotel. It has a very southwest vibe mixed in with something international. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I love the decor. The pool looks like a hidden retreat in the middle of a jungle. The rooms just look warm and welcoming as does the entire place.
L'Auberge de Sedona (~$650)
This resort is nestled amongst the trees and Oak Creek Canyon. There are a variety of cottage choices that can embrace the type of experience that you want to have: creekside, vista view, and spa side are some of the options available. The spa is exclusive for resort guests and there are daily experiences included with the resort fee.
Enchantment (~$750 per night)
This resort is probably the most well-known resort and is located about 20 minutes from downtown Sedona at the base of Boynton Canyon. It is loaded with activities: pickle ball, led mountain biking, star watching, spa services, yoga, swimming, golf and more. The service is incredible and the rooms are well-appointed.
Visiting the Grand Canyon
Do you want to hear a sad statistic? Probably not, but I'm going to tell you anyway. Most people that visit the Grand Canyon stay for less than 4 hours. What? You have to make an effort to get there - and I've never met a person that didn't have it on their bucket list - so why on earth would you only spend a few hours there? It just doesn't make sense to me.
It's true that the pictures do not do the place justice. It is massive and it's very hard to appreciate the height of the spires or vastness of the canyon. It just goes on and on.
Getting to the bottom is not for the faint of heart. And if you go to the bottom, you must come back up. Judging from the people we saw and talked to coming, that is no small effort. And these were people that were in shape and looked like seasoned hikers. To be clear, if you want to go to the bottom of the Canyon, you have to make a reservation to stay overnight in the Canyon in advance and you also have to prepare your body and your hiking gear. This isn't something you can just decide to do when you get to the Canyon.
Hiking the Southern Rim
The vast majority of people visit the southern rim because it is the closest to get to from major cities like Las Vegas, Flagstaff and Phoenix. It is also where you will find the most facilities. There are dozens of hikes that you could do, but if you want to get a good taste of the canyon and have different hiking capabilities, these are the 3 hikes that I would recommend:
This is the most popular trail to get down to the bottom and you will pass by people on mules and people coming back up from a looooong hike. Give those poor folks some space and cheer them on for their badass endeavor.
We took this down part way to the Ooh Aah point. You can probably guess why it's called that and it lives up to its name. We found this trail to be wider than Bright Angel. As I've hinted, Bill is not so much for heights and so he preferred this one.
This is a really cool trail that people of all all abilities can do. An interesting stop with a beautiful view is the Yavapai Geology museum. It's worth it to learn about each of the layers of rock as it will give you a deeper appreciation of the time that it took to carve this awe-inspiring vista in front of you.
Where to Eat
Make sure that you plan in advance and book lunch or dinner at El Tovar. The beautiful lodge sits near the canyon rim and has a spectacular view. The drink options were especially fun. My sister and I both got a prickly pear margarita and it was delish. I decided to try the Navajo taco which was huge and pretty tasty.
Where to Stay near the Grand Canyon
If you can stay within a National Park, do that. Full stop. Particularly if it is a busy park. The room and amenities may be very plain - although not always - but you will not regret not waiting in a line or for a parking space. Also be advised that these properties book up fast so plan in advance. At current time, availability opens up 13 months in advance. Xanterra manages reservations for most of the Park's reservations and has up-to-date information.
There are six properties within the historic area of the park, along the South Rim. All of these are near the trailheads for the hikes mentioned above, no driving needed. The page to book Grand Canyon Lodge Reservations is here. To directly view each lodge's homepage, see the links below:
This is the hotel that is at the bottom (in) the canyon. Reservations are awarded by lottery only and requests are taken 15 months in advance. At the time of this article, you could submit this month (January 2022) for a reservation for March 2023. If traveling into the canyon is something that you really want to do, the National Park Service has an extremely helpful FAQ page about the Grand Canyon Phantom Ranch lottery system.
Remember when the Grizzwolds go to the Grand Canyon? Clark needs to cash a check but ends up not able to do so. When the clerk walks away, he bangs his fist in frustration and the cash register opens. He steals the money, leaves the check, and then enjoys the view with Helen for about 3 seconds before ushering her to the car. The exterior shots of that scene were filmed at El Tovar.
The lodges along the south rim include:
And there is also the Yavapai Lodge near the Visitor Center.
If you cannot book within the park, I recommend the Best Western Premier Grand Canyon Squire Inn. We stayed here and the rooms were very simple, but clean. The central pool was huge and there was a bowling alley and arcade in the main building. Our kids loved it. The prices were very reasonable and the hotel is just a few minutes from the National Park entrance.
If you are going during the summer or at other peak times, make sure that you get up early and get into the park. Lines form and parking can be spotty if you don't get there early. Late afternoon / early evening is also a good time to get into the park but allow yourself plenty of time to get in before sunset. Crowds start to form again around that time.
Getting to Sedona and Grand Canyon
The closest airport may certainly not be your least expensive option. Fortunately, all the options are a beautiful drive so you can't really go wrong. In fact, you may find that the airport you choose greatly influences the trip that you have and the places that you visit.
Flagstaff is the closest to both Sedona (~25 minutes away) and the Grand Canyon (~90 minutes away from the South Rim). It may not be the cheapest airfare, however. If you are starting in Grand Canyon, another good option could be Las Vegas McCarron Airport (just over 4 hours to Grand Canyon or 4 hours and 20 minutes minutes to Sedona) which would, of course, practically force your hand to spend a night or two in Vegas.
A word of warning - my sister did this with her two kids - one 12 and the other 15 - and realized that Vegas isn't as cool as she remembered with her "Mom" hat on. Her younger daughter had a lot of questions and was very sad walking by some people that were less fortunate.
Drive Times from Airports to Grand Canyon or Sedona:
The table below shoes drive times from different regional airports in Nevada and Arizona to Grand Canyon or Sedona.
Las Vegas McCarran
4 hours, 10 minutes
4 hours, 14 minutes
Phoenix Sky Harbor
3 hours, 30 minutes
The Williams Train to the Grand Canyon
If you want to add even more fun to your itinerary, consider stopping in Williams, Arizona (just west of Flagstaff) to take the historic Williams Train directly to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. This train has been operating since the 1901 and is beautifully restored.
The train ride is a throwback to the wild west. There are musicians and cowboys on the train and if you are lucky, you may even see bandits out your window;) There's even a shootout as you board the train.
You arrive right at the Grand Canyon Village just below El Tovar. You have three hours to venture around the area which is just enough time to eat lunch at El Tovar and walk the rim for a while. You can also get your souvenirs at the shops within the village.
Sedona and Grand Canyon Weather by Month / Best Time of Year to Go
Sedona has good weather year round, but the best time to go is March to May or September to November. In the springtime, there are beautiful wildflowers that dot the rocks making it a favorite time of year for nature lovers. We went in June and it was very hot on the rocks, but doable with water (and ideally a head start on the day).
Frequently Asked Questions:
How long should I go to Sedona and Grand Canyon?
I would recommend at least 2 days in each place. This would be the minimum that I would suggest. You could do each in one day but you would be really rushed and not be able to see much. Two days in each place would give you a much better feel for the area but you would still be doing a fair amount of driving. Don't worry about having too much time, especially if you like to hike. There are so many things to do and hikes to enjoy.
Can you do a day trip from Sedona to the Grand Canyon?
You could, if you had your heart set on both and only one day to do it, but I think you would regret not staying in one place longer. It's hard not to want to look at the depth and breadth of the Grand Canyon for hours. Plus, just taking a short hike, you realize the effort that could be involved in a larger trek. And Sedona is a playground for all ages. It's impossible not to see the open and available expanse of red rocks and not want to roam and climb for hours. I'd recommend at least two hours.
How is the drive from Sedona to Grand Canyon?
It's lovely, especially as you descend into or out of Sedona. The image that you see on the driving map is hilarious - it's just a big set of squiggles that in real life translate to a meandering rode filled with beautiful trees, glorious vistas and heart-stopping heights.
What part of the Grand Canyon is closest to Sedona?
The South Rim is closest.
Is it easy to drive from Sedona to Grand Canyon?
Yes, it is a very easy and beautiful drive.
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